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Paul Henderson — Life's Breakaway
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May 10th was a memorable day for the almost 700 people lucky enough to be part of the sold out London Christian Prayer Breakfast. Ironically, this prayer breakfast was formally known as the "Mayor's Prayer Breakfast" and this year was attended not only by Mayor Joe Fontana but also past London Mayors, Ann Marie DiCicco-Best and Diane Haskett.

This event was organized by the Christian Churches Network of London and thanks to the many volunteers it was a flawless experience for the attendees and guests.

Rev. Pieter Pereboom (First Christian Reformed Church - London) welcomed everyone and introduced the honoured guests in attendance. He then invited Mayor Fontana to the podium. Mayor Fontana passed on the greeting from the city but said he was keeping his words to minimum as he and everyone else was there to hear Paul Henderson, not Joe Fontana which prompted a loud round of applause.

Pastor Don Howard (Stoney Creek Baptist Church) introduced the special guest speaker, Canada's Sports Hall of Fame member Paul Henderson.

It has been 40 years since Paul Henderson with 34 seconds left, in the final game of a series that transcended sports by scoring the winning goal in the 1972 Canada — Russia "Summit Series". Sept. 28, 1972, the day Henderson became a hero by scoring the biggest goal in Canadian history.

In Pastor Howard's introduction, he reminded everyone of a fact forgotten by most. Paul Henderson not only scored the winning goal to clinch the series he also scored the winning goal in game 6 and 7 plus the goal that tied the game in Game 3. There were a total of 31 goals scored by the Canadians in the 8 game series and only two players scored more than 3 goals: Phil Esposito and Paul Henderson, both scoring 7 goals in the 8 games.

Paul Henderson took to the podium and had the crowd in awe; some laughing and some in tears as he walked through his very public life in sports, his private life, his path to Christianity and his current battle with chronic lymphocytic lymphoma leukemia.

His accounts of the Summit Series were wonderful reminders to all old enough to be a part of what united the country from coast to coast to coast.

"Do you remember where you were for game eight?" asked Henderson.

It was easy to tell who among the attendees where at least 45 years old as they were nodding "Yes" to his question. He went on to tell how 1972 was the best year of his professional hockey career and also the worst of his career. At the time he played for the Toronto Maple Leafs, back when the infamous Harold Ballard owned the club. Henderson described how Ballard interfered with everything to do with the club and not in a pleasant fashion. It was because of Ballard and Ballard alone that Henderson wanted away from the Leafs organization. He was offered a contract by the Toronto Toros of the newly formed WHA. Even though Ballard matched the Toros offer, Henderson rejected Ballard's offer without hesitation.

Henderson then explained his path to Christianity. The goal became a fact of life that he'd never escape. "It's always overshadowed my career," he said. "There's no question. When I returned to Canada from Russia, I was thrust into the spotlight and this celebrity status was overwhelming. Suddenly, everybody wanted something—endorsements, appearances, photos. The fans expected more game-winners every time I was on the ice. I was mired in the highs and lows of wins and losses. With the lows came the booze and I was miserable, I just didn't know how to be happy."

He went on to talk about the life changing experience, "In 1973 a man by the name Mel Stevens came to my home and asked me to be part of a Christian hockey camp. I asked him 'What do you pay?' and Mel, who was a local Pastor by the way, answered: 'We don't pay'’. That took me back and I said to him 'Do you know who you're talking to?; to whom he calmly said: 'yes, that's why I am here'".

"As we talked about the camp all of a sudden he says: 'Paul, you seem like you've got an edge to yourself, you really seem like a frustrated, angry young man.' He was right but no one had ever said it hearing it out load…well I knew I was broken"

"I met with Pastor Mel for two years before dedicating my life to Christianity in 1975. But when I did, I told Mel 'OK, I am dedicating my life to God but you have to promise me one thing. Don't tell anybody!'"

Henderson explained that back then, there were no other sports celebrities that openly admitted to being Christians. He said this has fortunately changed as he did the Tebow pose much to the delight of the crowd.

"There was still one thing I had not done in my transition to Christianity and that was to forgive Harold Ballard. I just couldn't do it. Pastor Mel stressed that it was absolutely critical to do so and this would give me such a wonderful feeling of piece. I believed in him but in this I figured he was crazy! Eventually I did it, I wrote a letter to Mr. Ballard, forgave him 100% for the pain he caused me and apologising for all of the bad things I said about him. You know, immediately I felt the tightness and twisting in my gut just release and relax. It was unbelievable."

Henderson continued his sharing by talking about his other rock, his wife Eleanor who has been by his side through all of the ups and down. She was by his side at this breakfast as well, as he announced that this year he and Eleanor are celebrating their 50th anniversary.

Today, despite the cancer Henderson devotes his time to a spiritual mentoring program for business leaders. He says he still feels relatively healthy, but with the cancer continuing to spread, he is preparing to undergo intense chemotherapy in hopes of temporarily halting the disease.

Henderson concluded: "There's no cure, I am going to die someday just as everyone will die someday. I am not afraid; I just get up in morning and ask God to get me through the day. I would not trade places with anyone in this world."

Rev. Mike Wilkins brought the breakfast to close with a prayer in which he asked God to be with Paul Henderson through this difficult time and to please not take him as he has much more of Your work to do on earth.